Kadeer heads the Uighur American Association, and was a prominent businesswoman in Xinjiang but was jailed in 1999 for allegedly "leaking state secrets".

She was released and sent into exile in 2005.

Despite an influx of Han Chinese immigrants into the area in recent decades, Kashgar is mainly populated by Turkic-speaking Uighurs and other Central Asian ethnic groups such as Kazakhs and Tajiks.

Demolition plan

According to a report on the Xinjiang government's news website, the buildings in the city are dangerous and need to be demolished and rebuilt.

"The ancient city is dangerous and has become susceptible to a serious earthquake disaster," the report said.

"With a history of over 1,000 years it is under constant erosion from the elements."

In February, the government launched a $440m plan to move nearly 50,000 families out of Kashgar's ancient city centre.